Our Lady of Sorrows plans to enhance Hispanic ministry

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Ofelia Schwarz, a native of Puerto Rico, recently joined the Hispanic outreach committee at Our Lady of Sorrows, Ladysmith. Even though Puerto Ricans are American citizens, Schwarz still faced much discrimination when she came here. “Even to this day, I have learned to see prejudice right off the bat,” she said. (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)
Ofelia Schwarz, a native of Puerto Rico, recently joined the Hispanic outreach committee at Our Lady of Sorrows, Ladysmith. Even though Puerto Ricans are American citizens, Schwarz still faced much discrimination when she came here. “Even to this day, I have learned to see prejudice right off the bat,” she said. (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald Staff

LADYSMITH — A diocesan parish continues its efforts to welcome Latin American Catholics.

But, before they begin the task in earnest, members of the Hispanic outreach committee at Our Lady of Sorrows, Ladysmith, must understand immigrants’ needs.

“People want relationships,” said Deacon Craig Voldberg, who serves the Rusk County Catholic Community.

They also want a monthly Spanish Mass, access to sacraments and help learning English, according to survey responses from 12 area Latinos.

Members of the committee include Deacon Voldberg, Servants of Mary Sr. Cecilia Fandel, religious education coordinator Katie Rolli and Spanish-speaking parishioners Mary Miller and Ofelia Schwarz. A third bilingual parishioner, Therese Tindol, was unable to attend the April 2 meeting.

Schwarz is Puerto Rican and the newest addition to the group. Although she recently lost her husband and her home was destroyed by fire, she wants to help Hispanic immigrants who struggle with poverty and prejudice, as well as linguistic and cultural integration.

“We take so much for granted,” Schwarz said. “Especially in those countries, if they come here from Mexico or Puerto Rico … some of them are very poor.”

Of Mexicans, she said, “They’re my brothers and sisters, and I feel really bad how they get discriminated against.”

Prejudice, which both Texas native Miller and Schwarz have experienced repeatedly in this country, was briefly discussed. Poverty and cultural norms also came up, but the group primarily strategized how to meet the needs — spiritual and otherwise — of immigrants.

Surveys distributed to local Latinos were designed to aid them in their efforts. The surveys asked whether families would like a priest or deacon to visit them in their homes (many said yes); which feast days they wished to celebrate; the best day and time to celebrate Masses in Spanish; which sacraments they wished to receive; and whether they were in need of religious education classes for their children.

Implementing a telephone ministry — calling immigrant families to check in periodically — was one of Sr. Cecilia’s ideas. Surveys show some agricultural workers need medical attention — one requires medication for diabetes, another wants pain relief — and others seek access to a translator or assistance starting a business. One respondent has been unable to tell his employer he is allergic to latex gloves.

The committee hopes to address those needs while building stronger relationships. Educating Latin Americans about current immigration policies, visa options and community resources is the motivation behind a May 1 event to be held at the Rusk County Community Library in Ladysmith.

Commemorating both the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker and Mexico’s Labor Day, the 6:30-8 p.m. event will include refreshments, information on human trafficking legislation and a presentation by Deanne Thran, an Augusta woman who makes visa arrangements for workers on Rusk County farms.

The committee also aims to ensure immigrants’ religious and sacramental needs are being met. Schwarz said other denominations are already beginning to reach out to Latin American Catholics in Exeland; another church hosted a dinner for immigrant families, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have already been out to the farms.

Sr. Cecilia mentioned finding a “traveling padre” who could celebrate Mass in Spanish, hear confessions, baptize and distribute first Communion.

Lack of funding is one factor limiting the committee’s ministry. If they did have the resources, Deacon Voldberg wondered, “What would we want to do?” Assimilate, or maintain separate Masses and ministry for Spanish-speaking parishioners?

Sr. Cecilia’s answer was both — immigrants need to retain their identity and take on a new one.

“Not assimilated,” she explained, “but integrated.”

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